I’ve tried writing this about five times in the span of a few hours on this Easter morning. Trying to come up with the right words to say when talking about something like this is not easy.
Let’s start with the obvious: The Vegas Golden Knights are Pacific Division champions.
You are not in the Twilight Zone. An expansion team actually won its 50th game of the season on Saturday, a 3-2 thriller against the San Jose Sharks that was highlighted by the most amazing damn goal you’ll see this hockey season. And of course it was scored by William Karlsson, who else would it have been?
“It’s nothing you really practice; it just happens,” Karlsson said. “It’s instinct for me.”
It’s one of those moments that, watching live, seemed like it was going in slow motion. Karlsson intercepts the puck at the blue line, glides down the left side and has a meeting with San Jose goaltender Martin Jones. It’s a battle between Karlsson, Jones and imagination.
Strike that: It’s a handicap match between Karlsson and imagination versus Jones. Imagination wins by a country mile.
That goal, Karlsson’s 42nd of the season, won the division title for the Golden Knights. It was their 50th win of the season, becoming the third team in the NHL to reach that mark. They’re guaranteed to have home-ice advantage for the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Hell, they still have a chance to catch the Nashville Predators for the top seed in the Western Conference.
Karlsson’s goal was just another moment in a long list of memorable events that have defined this first Golden Knights season. And there was another memorable moment that night, about two hours before Karlsson broke the hockey universe.
The Golden Knights retired No. 58, in honor of victims from the Oct. 1 tragedy. The first banner raised to the rafters at T-Mobile Arena, long before a “Best Expansion Team in NHL History” banner, or even a Pacific Division champions banner — the Golden Knights continued to do what they’ve done all year; honor a city and a community that continues to show its resilience.
There are probably a lot of people who have thought about Oct. 1 a lot this season, as have I. Today is six months since I sat on my couch with CNN on TV, trying to process what happened. Not finding reason, I wrote this, long before the Golden Knights were going to play their first regular season game at T-Mobile Arena. The nine days inbetween were going to be an eternity. The Golden Knights went from being just another expansion team, to a group of players that quickly embraced the community as its own and was playing for a city.
The Golden Knights, in turn, have done their part to honor those from the events six months ago. Each home game, Vegas defenseman Deryk Engelland and his wife Melissa helped choose a “Vegas Strong Hero of the Game,” honoring either a first responder, someone who helped people flee the scene or those who survived. The team has carried Oct. 1 with them all season and have gone about it in a class way.
“The fans deserve it,” Vegas rookie forward Alex Tuch said. “They’ve been unbelievable all year. They’ve supported us no matter what the outcome is. It’s been really fun to play in front of them, and I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.”
What the Golden Knights have done this season goes far beyond benefiting from expansion draft rules. It’s not just about breaking every expansion record known to Mankind, winning memorable games, or even donuts (for as much as we would love it to be all about Marc-Andre Fleury (Donuts)).
It’s about what this team has meant for this city. It’s about what the first professional sports franchise ever in Las Vegas means to a community that needed something to rally behind. The Golden Knights have proven all year that they’re a great hockey team, but they’ve proven in these past six months that they are more than that to the people of Las Vegas.
Now, Las Vegas gets to experience one of the greatest wonders of this generation — the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“It’s a great feeling to win our division,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said.
“Obviously no one had those expectations at the beginning of the season. As we know, we played hard and worked hard all season long, so it’s a great accomplishment. We all know what the real accomplishment is going to be. It’s all about the playoffs now that we know they’re there.”
The magic carpet isn’t ready to land any time soon.